One Hit Wonders:
In the USA
What exactly constitutes a “One-Hit Wonder”? In exploring this topic we find that many songs by a band or an artist that are what we’d consider one-hit wonders in the US are actually hugely popular acts, with several charted hits in other countries. They are also are fan favorites, and/or charted elsewhere but not on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, which is often used as the standard for determining “hits.”
By definition, “a one-hit wonder is a musical artist who is successful with one hit song but without a comparable subsequent hit. The term may also be applied to an artist who is remembered for only one hit despite other successes.” In other words, one that places highly on the Billboard Hot 100,
In the 60s, there were quite a few acts that would be considered a one-hit wonder, such as 1967’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” by British band Procol Harum. While the band would go on to release several more albums popular in the UK, none would reach the success in the U.S. that their first huge hit did.
Another 60’s band often considered in this category is The Kingsmen from Portland, Oregon. Their 1963 recording of the classic Richard Berry song “Louie Louie” was in the top 10 on the Billboard charts in the US for months, reaching number 2 for six weeks. The band got a lot of mileage out of this song, re-releasing it several times throughout the 60s. They also had some small success with some additional lesser-known compositions and covered better-known songs such as The Beatles’ “Money (That’s What I Want”).
Other notable 60s hits that are considered “one-hit wonders” are “Wipe Out” by the Surfaris, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by the Tokens, “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire, and “You Were On My Mind” by We Five.
The 70s gave us a number of one-hit wonders as well. Songs such as “Play That Funky Music” by Wild Cherry, “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas, “In The Summertime” by Mungo Jerry, “Ring My Bell” by Anita Ward, “Got To Be Real” by Cheryl Lynn, “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang, “Afternoon Delight” by Starland Vocal Band, and “Venus” by Shocking Blue.
While 1970s “All Right Now” by Free is considered in this genre, having just one hit single was probably not too crushing for them. After all, they’re considered one of the best-selling blues-rock groups in Britain. They disbanded shortly after getting that hit single, but not before watching their album sell a cool 20 million albums worldwide – no big deal!
The 80s also gave us a bevy of songs in this unique category. Who could forget “Video Killed The Radio Star” by the Buggles? The Buggles were an English new wave band formed in London, England, in 1977. They are best known for that 1979 debut single, which wasn’t really a hit until MTV used it as their very first video in 1981. Of interest, the duo also disbanded in ‘81 to join the group YES. Talk about a musical switch — going from New Wave to Progressive Rock.
Another band with only one charting hit was The Vapors, out of the U.K., with “Turning Japanese” in 1980. Originally named The Vapours, the lads removed the “u” to appear as an American band and help grab more attention in the US. They released two albums, the first did relatively well in both the UK and Canada, the second one sold poorly and they broke up in 1982.
One 80’s band who is often mislabeled as a one-hit wonder is Glass Tiger from Canada. The band released three studio albums. Their 1986 debut album, The Thin Red Line, went quadruple platinum in Canada and gold in the U.S. Two singles from that album, “Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)” and “Someday”, both reached the U.S. Top 10. While the band released two more albums, both were only successful in Canada. The band continued to tour until 1993, riding the wave of that first album. They have reformed a couple of times since then, with the only line-up change being the drummer, and toured with Swedish band Roxette in both Canada and Europe.
In the 90s, several of the bands given this classification don’t really seem to fall into this category on initial examination. Bands like Blind Melon, Marcy Playground, and Len are listed as such, but appear to have more substance than just the one listed “hit”. Some of these bands have had other hits of moderate stature and have charted more successfully abroad, but again, the common thread that runs through them all is that one song has ultimately wound up wholly defining them in the United States.
The late 90s American band The Verve Pipe is listed as being best known for their 1996 hit “The Freshman”, however many also know them from their song “Colorful”, which was heavily featured in the 2001 movie “Rock Star”. Sadly, like a lot of the music released in September 2001, their album didn’t get the push from the label it needed to be truly successful. The band, in fact, has released 12 albums, but only met with moderate success.
The power-pop band The Rembrandts are well-known for 1994’s “I’ll Be There for You”. A little catchy tune with an instantly singable chorus, this ditty wound up as the theme song for a show called “Friends,” which a more than a few people watched. In fact, the song is now usually defined as “the Friends theme song” and has kept The Rembrandts’ legacy alive in pop culture. However, they actually did have another successful single at the beginning of their career, “Just the Way It Is, Baby.”
It seems this category is always open to interpretation. With so many variables to consider, we’d say there are very few songs that are the band’s only hit. As always, there are a few exceptions, but for the most part, we’d say quite a few of them had more success than the moniker “One Hit Wonder” would appear to allow for.
On the flip side, who can forget David Hasselhoff’s incredible musical successes in the 80s and 90s in Germany? While received tepidly in the U.S., the Germans went wild for him. Then we can consider Bruce Willis’ one hit album “The Return of Bruno”. Mostly cover songs, but not a bad effort. What about Don Johnson’s attempt at a music career in the late 80s with the song “Heartbeat”? In all 3 cases, I think many here in the U.S. would say “stick to your day job”.